SI Review: December 2013

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Straight Talk From the Customer: The Gift of Giving

Some guidelines for staffing suppliers when planning client appreciation gestures

By Gary Campbell

The giving and receiving of gifts is a common practice in many business relationships, and staffing is no exception. December is a time when many businesses offer gifts, though the practice is not limited to the end of the year.

Years ago, gifts from staffing suppliers could be extravagant: paid vacations, tickets to sporting events and the like. Primarily meant to show appreciation for our business, they also often helped us to get to know each other better; regardless of technological advances, global climates and virtual relationships, it’s the people involved that make this business work.

But many client companies, mine included, have begun to frown upon our receiving gifts. Even going out for a round of golf with suppliers may raise eyebrows, even though that’s when some of the best work or problem-solving would get done. Today, we can’t accept tickets to a sporting event unless we pay for them ourselves.

So when planning client gifts, be sensitive to the policies your client may have in place. Offering a gift the client cannot accept can create an awkward exchange for both parties. Here are a few things I have enjoyed from my suppliers implementing.

Coffee time. Schedule a coffee and pastry drop-off to start your client’s day. This goes a long way, is inexpensive, gets you some face time and makes everyone happy. The suppliers that have done this for my team have always gotten a warm welcome. We tend to brainstorm a bit during their time with us, so work is getting done in the process. There is no agenda when they show up; they are just coming to say thanks and to stay on our radar.

Charity. Partner with a client to support a charity of their choice or philanthropic efforts. One of the suppliers I spoke with recently is very in tune with gift giving regulations and has instituted this as one of its key attractors in relationship-building. The majority of its clients have specific charities they have committed to in their community. What a great way to be part of that if you are a truly invested supplier.

Network. Endless Referrals, a book by Bob Burg, has great information on how to establish a network that will continue to funnel business referrals your way. As a supplier, you can help drive client business using similar principles. More suppliers are realizing that they can help their customers by facilitating introductions to people or other organizations within their own supply chain. By referring business to your own client, you establish a true partnership that will last a long time and potentially have more business referred back to you, a true win/win.

Small but personal. Another supplier I recently spoke with told me of a time its client went on about his dream car, which was a new Cadillac convertible, and how badly he wanted one. The supplier representative found a toy model replica to present to the client and the client was wildly impressed. Guess who the client continues to do business with?

Keep in touch, sincerely. Call the client just to check in and make sure everything is going well. But this can be tricky. These calls have to be sincere — and you have to be delivering on your commitments or this call could get rough. We can tell the difference between a sincere call and “robo” calls where a representative calls in for nothing more than to check us off his or her list. That does not work for me. Have a reason to call that is tied to our business, and know where you stand in terms of performance. Anticipate our needs and be able to communicate that to us. That lets us know there has been time invested in us prior to that call.

Deliver excellence. If gift giving is not your thing, nothing speaks louder than just plain ole customer service excellence. Your presence or the presence of your generous contributions will always come second to excellent customer service.

While the benefit of doing more business with a particular manager may seem advantageous at the time, the ramifications for knowingly going against your client’s policy may be far more costly. Be smart in your relationship-building endeavors with your clients — give appropriately.

Gary Campbell is COO of Johnson Health Center.

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Andy 12/06/2013 01:07 pm

Something to think about. Excellent info and very timely.


Bill Ellis 12/04/2013 10:45 pm

Gary,
You've provided terrific insights - most of which many people may not have known - and provided some awesome suggestions for appropriate gifts with which acknowledge a person's value to you and/or your company. This topic resonates quite a bit with me in that the corporation in which I spent most of my career was racked with scandal back in the 80's involving the acceptance of gifts and bribes. The participants lost careers, reputation and integrity and the rest of us were introduced to significantly stringent new guidelines for receiving any gifts.
Well written and very timely.
Bill


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